A. Legislative Framework of Student Disability Services
The cultural and complexity of the American landscape ingrained with unique perspectives and contributions of diverse individuals in the society is the beacon of hope that drives the wondrous nation into fresh heights of economic prosperity. The beauty of rights and freedoms and opportunities for all regardless of race, color or physical disability has continued to be the driving force of America as a country as well as being the envy of the whole world.
Student disabilities and their rights to fair treatment is but a dot in the large framework of federal, state and institutional policies and regulations that are designed not only to shield such individuals from the wrath of discrimination but also to enable them culture their inherent potentials and maximize their abilities for the benefit of themselves and the communities around them.
Federal legislations constitute the bulk of anti discriminatory statutes that reflects America’s supreme commitment to completely eliminating discrimination and bias on the basis of physical or mental disabilities from the society as well as ensuring the protection of civil rights and liberties all individuals.(Embry et al., 2004). The Rehabilitation Act and the specific Disabilities Act (Section 504) are the benchmarks that drive the protection of individuals that were born with disability or those that have been rendered disable in the course of their lives but who are otherwise qualified by virtue of their natural human intellect to fully participate in all programs and activities in higher education institutions.
According to the Federal Rehabilitation Act, 1973, persons with disabilities are defined as persons who are inflicted or afflicted with one or more physical, mental or any other form if impairment that considerably limits their life functions. The term is also used to refer top individuals who possess a history of the same or who are regarded as being in possession of any form of impairment. (Embry et al, 2004).
The article further defines and gives clarification on the time “life functions” as walking, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, self care and seeing. In this respect the higher educational institutions have the responsibility to institute academic adjustments and or reasonable modifications as well as ensure the provision or abundance of auxiliary aids and services that aim at integrating these individuals into the acquisition of universal knowledge. These guidelines are outlined in Section 504 Implementing Regulations.
As an institution that glories in ensuring that all individuals are trained to achieve their excellence, there are a variety of adjustments that can be instituted without virtually incurring any additional costs, modifications of some academic programs also do not necessarily alter the content or scope of any particular course of program. For instance, one of the most frequent requests by the disable is always an extension of the testing time (Brinkerhoff, McGuire and Shaw, 2002).
With understanding and quality coaching by the academic staff, this is not at all difficult to accomplish because it is in agreement with the colleges core mission of assisting all students to achieve their educational goals through the provision of quality academic and student support services. Moreover the college also has a myriad of equally academically satisfying programs and services that are specifically designed to tackle individual student’s needs, provide wonderful opportunities for all students to ensure their academic success, broaden their grasp on knowledge as well as offering a satisfying college experience for all individuals.
Scott(2002), reiterates that to provide a note taker, distraction free test setting and even books on tape do not cost the learning institutions a fortune yet they effectively offer an accommodation of the academic needs of almost all the disable students(Scott, 2002). For some time now, institutions have heavily relied on course substitutions but note takers, study skills training and test accommodations have been demonstrated to be effective in addition to the fact that they considerably reduce the need for the later (Scott, 2002).
It should be understood that the provision of such services to disabled students does not mean that they now have the same potential as their able counterparts to achieve comparable academic results but these services comparatively levels the playing ground as well as offering an equal opportunity to students with disabilities. These opportunities have been found to facilitate their success in academics just as their counterparts. For example if a specific requirement is needed for the full accomplishment of a course or program, slight alteration can enable those with disabilities to achieve best results. Taking a case in dentistry where it is essential that students be astute in fine motor control, an alteration of this requirement with respect to disable students does not necessarily incur great losses.
The Federal Rehabilitation Act further stipulates that leaning institutions may not institute programs or requirements that promote discrimination with respect to recruitment, admissions, physical facilities and other non academic service provisions such as housing, transportation systems and student health services. The Act stipulated that all federally funded institutions were to ensure compliance with the Rehabilitation Act. In 1990, The Disabilities Act extended the scope of compliance to all institutions that were not federally funded. It is an understanding that education is but a channel to a better future. However how can the better future be justified if there is no alternative recognition of non discrimination even in the work place?
The Federal provisions ensure that individuals with disabilities are guaranteed protection in the workplace, public transportation, goods and services provisions in the public domain, telecommunications, public and private higher educational institutions. Specifically, Congress attested to the fact that millions of Americans are afflicted mentally or physically with various forms of disabilities and that this number was on the rise.
For this reason therefore, all prerequisite interventions should be put in place to enable persons with disability to have a natural human experience in which their rights and liberties are not infringed upon, that they should be able to nurture and maximize their potential to live independently, be able to individually determine their destiny, be able to make individual choices, actively contribute to the society as well be able to pursue meaningful careers. Additionally, these interventions should enable persons with disabilities to included and integrated in the political, socio-economic, cultural and educational mainstream that constitutes the fabric of the American Society (Rehabilitation Act Amendments; Findings).
Article I of the 1998 Workforce Investment Act Spearheaded the implementation of employment of persons with disabilities. The vocational rehabilitation program enshrine in the article laid down the foundations of provision of support services, independent living services, meaningful employment opportunities as well as the provision of other reasonable accommodations that do not infringe on the employer or employees rights.
The federal legal framework further ensured that all programs , activities, or projects that are covered by the Rehabilitation Act be carried out in line with the fundamental human rights and freedoms. In the policy statement respect for individual human dignity, self determination, personal responsibility, pursuit of meaningful careers and making individual decisions based on informed choice. Other provisions included the respect for individual privacy, their rights and equal access to services in the public domain. The act also sought to promote support of individual’s representatives so long as these were in agreement with the individuals request, desire or needs.
B. The Responsibilities of the Office for Students with Disabilities in the Campus
Ever since the legislation of federal legal requirements, higher learning institutions have appropriately responded by putting into place policies and procedures that are in line with the legal provisions of both the Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. The policies stipulate the prerequisite responsibilities of the learning institution, faculty member and even the student. It is the adoption of these policies that have facilitated the setting up an Office for Students with disabilities. Usually abbreviated as OSD, this office has the responsibility of helping both the students and the faculty members to fully understand what is expected of them and carry out their duties and responsibilities in accordance to the legal requirements.
Students with disabilities are required to notify the office for students with disabilities so as to facilitate their accommodations (Embry et al., 2004). The office then independently carries out psycho educational testing and submits the results as require by the institutions policy. The students accompanying documentations are reviewed to determine their eligibility after which a decision is made as to whether they can be granted equal access to all programs and facilities. Additionally, the office may provide documentation and support literature in the form of a letter detailing the specific students need for accommodation. These are very necessary to assigned instructors as it offers them an additional analysis and hence promote better performances. Moreover, such documentation about a student’s academic accommodation or documentation derived from assistive technology remains the basis of the office contact with the student.
As the legal jargon interpreter and implementation authority in the campus, they are charged with the responsibility of providing all relevant information covering on disabilities and the services available for disable persons, the legal obligations of the members of the faculty to the students, teaching strategies and academic accommodations for students with disabilities. It is also the principal role of the office to develop policies and regulations that govern students with disabilities. Other services provided by OSD to the college fraternity includes holding consultations with the staff and instructors, training and awareness campaigns in and to the to the campus fraternity.
This office is the first contact between the student and the learning institution when a student is being considered for registration. Because of this and to continually develop a valuable rapport with the students, OSD carry out counseling of students encouraging them to adopt self advocacy mechanisms, familiarize themselves with the institutions study strategies, development and evaluation and professional development of staff.
C. Responsibilities of the Students
The provision of quality student disability services is a multifaceted and complex arena. To ensure that service provision is adequate; students too have to be involved in the whole service delivery mechanism where they are assigned specific duties and responsibilities. The students are relegated the responsibility of ensuring that they obtain an evaluation that carries the documentation of their disabilities. This examiners report is subsequently handed over to then OSD office.
In the office, the examiner’s report is taken through a review to determine the evidence of eligibility so as to confirm whether the adjustments and accommodations in the campus are sufficient for such a case of disability. After this review, it still remains is the onus of the students to make a notification to the instructors although they are entitled to assistance. Academic adjustments and accommodations are usually tailored in accordance with the student’s individual needs and priorities. Provision of a sign language interpreter, note taker and requests for extra time for exams can only be provided if the student personally discusses these with the assigned instructor. This is because the sole purpose of these adjustments or accommodation is to provide an equal opportunity for academic success. To ensure that this is maintained, only specific barriers that are created by a specific disability are tackled (Scott, 2002).
Higher learning institutions have always promoted three basic concepts that should be adopted by students with disabilities. These include helping the students to know themselves, helping them and encouraging them to effectively advocate for themselves as well as equipping them with the prerequisite advocacy skills necessary for their success in every aspect of life.
However, this is always an uphill task at the beginning because these students have just been graduated from the high schools where they had distinct and different responsibilities from those of the colleges and universities. In high schools such students are offered protection by the Individuals with Disability Education Act which is distinct and different from the Section 504 of the two primary legislations that control discrimination and promote non discriminatory behaviors in Higher learning institutions (Wolanin and Steele, 2004).
While it is compulsory that all students go through the high school whether they are able or disable and cannot be rejected by the institutions, higher education is voluntary and there have been cases where students with disabilities are rejected due to substandard academic performance. This transition to self advocacy is usually a very complex and the challenges that they face can only be made bearable by the office for the students with disabilities (Brickerhoff, McGuire and Shaw, 2002).
D. Responsibilities of the Faculty Members
In accordance with the two anti discriminatory statutes, there should be no discrimination whatsoever by members of the faculty in the carrying out of reasonable adjustments and accommodation. As institutional employees, adherence to the disability legal provisions is key to ensuring that institutional compliance is upheld and that the students are given high quality coaching to enable them have a brighter future. They are responsible for the academic adjustments, extension of time so that the students with disabilities accomplish the degree requirements, modify courses to suit specific students needs and institute reliable methods of academic measurement of achievement that do not measure the students disabilities.
Students have the responsibility to discuss their limitations with the faculty members and so are the faculty members who are responsible for ensuring that they develop strategies that are geared towards the achievement of the program or course objectives. They are also partly responsible for advising on the appropriate accommodation even though the bulk of this is usually done by the office for students with disabilities. In conjunction with the OSD, they offer proctor to students who have requested extra time for examinations and provide a relatively quiet test setting to minimize distractions. (Embry et al, 2004).